Exploring Xi’an: the Bell Tower, the food street in the Muslim Quarter, walking the City Walls and feasting on a banquet.
2 June 2016
Despite the overnight train being very jerky, it wasn’t too bad a sleep. We were a bit delayed in the morning but arrived safely at Xi’an. It is a much older station than we had seen previously and, when Jing said there were no escalators or elevators, I was picturing with horror the stations in India where we had to lug our bags up and down hundreds of steps – but here it was all very civilised with ramps.
We transfer to our bus without too much effort, although it is raining as we walk through to the bus park area. It is about 45 minutes drive to our hotel – another change of hotel but as we are staying 2 nights in the one place it doesn’t really matter to us. Thankfully our rooms are ready and we can still get the buffet breakfast in the hotel to top up the bananas we had at dawn on the train.
We meet Jing at 11.00 for a walking tour (after taking a local bus and getting off near the Xi’an Bell Tower) of the Muslim Quarter. Muslim peoples moved here from the Silk Road over a thousand years ago and were called the Hui ethnic group. They have inter-married with local people and now all you can see is that some of the women wear head scarves and the men wear little white hats.
First of all we visit the food street and watch all sorts of interesting things being made: a kind of ginger hokey pokey being stretched and folded, stretched and folded in long folds – it starts off greenish and turns creamy white as it is worked, then it is cut into pieces and left to harden; there are men making a sesame toffee where two of them pound the toffee with large wooden mallet; there is Muslim bread in large rounds like pizza, studded with nuts or seeds; whole crabs fried on sticks, lambs feet, kebabs; all manner of dried fruit (I tried deep fried persimmon).
There is also a souvenir street with all sorts of different items for sale. Chris manages to buy a new suitcase as a wheel has broken on his old one; Emily finds a beautiful cloisonné snuff bottle and some gifts to take home. We meet up with Jing again to bus back to the hotel, and have a free afternoon.
Most of us are interested in going to the Xi’an city wall – the oldest, largest and best preserved city wall remaining in China, built in the 14th century. The city has expanded well beyond the walls now. It is still raining but we don our raincoats and umbrellas and head out again. Jing kindly takes us by local bus to the wall entrance and shows us which buses we can catch home and how many stops until we get off. Mike and Bernie hire bicycles to ride the 14km circuit, and the rest of us just walk part of the way and back again. It would have been a lovely walk on a nice day but with the rain and us feeling tired we just couldn’t be bothered. Emily, Anu and I walked from the Eastern Gate to the South Eastern corner and then back to explore the main gate and an exhibition of dragons in the gate tower.
We voted for a coffee and a bus ride home in which ever order they came in. Our bus arrived and we successfully navigated our way back to the hotel but once there all the nearby coffee places were shut, even the hotel boasted a world famous coffee shop that was well and truly shut. Eventually we opted for a cup of tea in our rooms and a lie down.
Twelve of us met to walk the back streets to get to the Xi’an China Hotel which is famous for its local cuisine and has been frequented by many global celebrities. It turns out that my colleague Liverpool lived just behind the same hotel for 13 years. We all shared a big table – which in hindsight was crazy because the food came out thick and fast and everyone was trying to spin the lazy Susan to get to the new dishes while others where trying to spoon (or chopstick) things onto their plates. Drinks were crazy too because although they had been in the refrigerator, it had been turned off because it used too much power so we got warm beer, and then they brought out glasses that were so hot we couldn’t pick them up. A few of us had considered sharing a bottle of wine but they only had red and it was 400 yuan ($100) a bottle. But the food was fantastic and we tried a range of dishes that we hadn’t tried before, including some very wide spicy noodles and fried dumplings. (Sorry Carmella, it was too frenetic to get photos).
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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